Virus Outbreak Iowa

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds listens to a question during a news conference on the state’s guidance for returning to school in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Thursday in Des Moines.

As school districts prepare to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year, Iowa’s governor Thursday released follow-up guidelines for her Return-to-Learn plan that will keep students in the classroom for at least 50% of their instructional time.

Gov. Kim Reynolds led a press conference Thursday morning to detail the plan and the state’s goal to bring students into the classroom during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. She said getting kids back in class is necessary to educate them, provide for their emotional needs, detect child abuse, ensure food is available to students in need and assist working parents. She said keeping students out of school is as much of a public health emergency as the threat posed by the virus itself.

“Back to school doesn’t mean back to normal,” she said, adding that hygiene for prevention, social distancing and online education all will play a role.

School districts across Iowa since spring had been working on their Return-to-Learn plans that were to be submitted to the state by July 1. The Clinton School District announced its plans publicly July 16.

Clinton School District Superintendent Gary DeLacy at that time recommended a hybrid model in which students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade and ninth grade would start on site in August. Seventh and eighth grades and high school sophomores, juniors and seniors were to take classes online unless, due to substandard performance or special needs, the district required them to attend class in person.

But the following day, July 17, Reynolds announced she would override local school districts and require students to spend at least half of their schooling in classrooms. Her order did make an exception for parents who want their children to shift completely to remote learning. Accommodations must also be made for any student to learn remotely if they, a caregiver, or a person they live with has a health condition that would increase their risk of COVID-19.

Reynolds at Thursday’s press conference said she has been asked why her office is involved in making the decisions instead of local districts. Her reason, she said, is because the vast majority of school districts cover multiple counties, some up to three or four. She said having her office oversee the plan in conjunction with guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health, the CDC and public health data will help all districts as they reopen.

Among the data considered to reopen classrooms are studies that state health officials say indicate children don’t contract the virus or spread it as much as adults do. Data to be taken into consideration to keep schools open are absenteeism in the districts and positivity rates. That data will be available for all to see, Reynolds said. A 30-day supply of personal protective equipment will be given to each school district, as well.

“I know that together we can do this safely and responsibly,” she said.

Reynolds said additional guidance also will be released to districts about what to do if students or teachers test positive and how to move classes to online instruction if necessary. Having close contact with someone who tests positive will mean quarantines; contact tracing will be used to determine who was within 6 feet of the person for 15 minutes or more.